Ottawa wins deal with one First Nation, but Burnt Church refuses to talk

Montreal Gazette
Wednesday, May 9, 2001

OTTAWA (CP) – A fishing deal reached between Ottawa and a Quebec First Nation has cracked what some native groups had hoped would be a united front against federally-imposed regulations. But the band embroiled in last fall’s ugliest clashes over East Coast lobster is still refusing to negotiate. 

The Gaspeg Mi’kmaq Nation near Gaspe, Que., has accepted federal fishing rules in return for cash, equipment and training, said J.J. Bear, a spokesman with the Atlantic Policy Congress, which represents aboriginal governments. 

Such agreements do not undermine the treaty rights of bands that sign on – now or in future, he stressed. 

But Burnt Church is among a handful of First Nations defying Ottawa’s authority. 

Last fall, violent skirmishes broke out between band members and fisheries officials on New Brunswick’s Miramichi Bay. 

In 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Donald Marshall Jr. has a treaty right to fish eels. It also said the Mi’kmaq, Maliseet and Passamaquoddy bands can hunt, fish and gather what they need for a “moderate livelihood” – within rules set by Ottawa. 

Federal negotiators have been trying ever since to set parameters acceptable to First Nations, non-native fishermen and other interests. 

They are working to strike new deals with 34 Atlantic First Nations to replace one-year, interim agreements that expired March 31. 

David Bevan, director general of resource management for Fisheries, confirmed Wednesday that a deal had been reached but would offer no details. 

Gaspeg officials were not immediately available. 

“Once there’s a critical mass of five or six (deals) we may be making an announcement” within the next couple of weeks, Bevan said. 

Fisheries reached short-term agreements last year with 30 of 34 First Nations. Burnt Church was not among them. 

Enforcement officers confronted band members who set thousands of traps out of season from August to October. The impasse continues as the band maintains it has the right to regulate itself, Bevan said Wednesday. 

Ottawa spent nearly $200 million last year to buy out non-native licences and offer boats, equipment and training to bring First Nations into the East Coast fishery following the Supreme Court judgment. 

Of that, $13 million was spent on enforcement when Burnt Church and the Indian Brook band near Shubenacadie, N.S. laid illegal lobster traps. 

Bevan would not say how much money is available this year; talks with First Nations are continuing. 

Indian Brook Chief Reg Maloney appealed two weeks ago to other Atlantic chiefs to resist signing new deals, and present a united front against imposed federal rules. He is one of the four band leaders who shunned interim agreements. 

But Maloney conceded the federal offers may be too hard to resist. 

Bands without new deals will be allowed to fish this season but they won’t receive the perks of additional training or equipment, Bevan said. 

Fisheries is ready for the disputes expected after the federally-sanctioned commercial lobster fishing season ends on Miramichi Bay in late June, said Andre-Marc Lanteigne. 

“Staff are on call, and we’ve learned a lot.”